Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Arab News, 29 May 2017 - Donald Trump’s first international trip as US president has now ended. After all the controversy about his campaign rhetoric regarding Islam and his executive orders on travelers from some Middle Eastern countries, Trump’s choice of Saudi Arabia — which he called “the heart of the Muslim World” — as the first stop on his first trip came as quite a surprise to many.
Even more unexpected was the presence of more than 50 Arab and Muslim heads of state and representatives at the Arab-Islamic-American Summit, held during Trump’s visit.
The timing, place and reception of the US president’s remarks should have come as no surprise, however. They reflect the shared goal of Western and Muslim nations of “a coalition of nations who share the aim of stamping out extremism,” as Trump put it in his speech. And in that context, in comments long overdue for their clarity and lucidity, the American president called out the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism: Iran.
As Trump said: “No discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three — safe harbor, financial backing and the social standing needed for recruitment… From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.”
It was a statement of policy long awaited in the Arab world and beyond. For too long, groups such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda have hoarded the headlines with their vicious massacres, bloody videos and offensive rhetoric. They were allowed to define the narrative as “Islam versus the infidels,” to the dismay and outrage of Muslims worldwide, instead of calling it what it is: Terrorism, plain and simple.
This is not about Islam versus the West, or Arabs versus Persians, or Sunnis versus Shiites. It is about the civilized peoples of the world — of all faiths and cultures — joining together to defeat a barbaric, violent extremism that spreads destruction and chaos in the region, and brutalizes civilian populations, most of whom are in fact Muslim. To do so, they must recognize that the heart of the leviathan beats in Tehran. That fact has been well known to the peoples of the Middle East for almost four decades.
As Trump stated, Iran is “a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.”
In addition, Trump’s words were appealing to the ordinary Iranian people who the US president characterized as “the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims.”
Iranian opposition figures including Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran coalition, welcomed the vision of peace, prosperity and alliance against extremism propagated at the Riyadh Summit. She called on the international community to confront the Iranian government’s export of terrorism and fundamentalism, its ballistic missile program, its interference in the internal affairs of other countries, as well as its destructive regional and international role.
Iran’s “wilayat Al-faqih” theocracy, with all its factions, pegs the hope of its own survival on the dogged pursuit of the fundamental policies of export of terrorism abroad and harsh suppression within Iran.
Its reckless drive to extend its influence throughout the region provides Syria’s Bashar Assad with the extremist reinforcements, funds and weapons he needs to massacre Syrian civilians, drive millions from their homes, and turn city after city into wasteland. None of those resources is turned on Daesh.
In Yemen, Houthi militias armed and financed by Iran spread death and destruction. In Iraq, militias led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps incite sectarian strife, and thwart efforts by Iraq’s central government to unite the nation in a campaign to isolate and drive out Daesh.
To confront this threat to the region and the world, the international community must cut off the flow of funds and forces to Tehran. In a nutshell, when the Iranian people and international community alter the Iranian government’s behavior of exporting Shiite extremism, they will bring the goal of stamping out extremism in the Middle East region that much closer. It is time to enable them realize that task.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.